Odd Space Dilemma: What to do with this fireplace?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

“Hi AT,

It’s time to tackle the living room, and I’m just not sure how to proceed. The stained glass windows, leaded glass bookcase doors, river rock fireplace, slate tile and box beam ceilings together make for a very busy living room. I don’t care for the river rock in particular and I’ve considered taking a sledge hammer to it, but am afraid of shattering the windows in the process.”

(Brian posted this question for us on
flickr. We can find you there too if you add the tag
apartmenttherapysanfrancisco to your images.)

“I stripped most of the nine layers of paint from the rocks, but the paint around the fireplace opening seems to be burned onto the rocks. Could/should I put a new façade over it? Hide it behind a couple of plants? Live with it as it?


Dear Brian,

We’ve been asked about ugly fireplaces before, and in your case we have to say that we don’t think your fireplace is that ugly!

We think it’s the smallish scale of the room relative to the rocks, and the overload of other architectural details that make the fireplace feel like the elephant in the room. (Just imagine it in a room with soaring ceilings and a view of a wooded valley…)

We agree that something has to give here to make this room feel more peaceful, and since it’s the river rocks you singled out for loathing, we’re going to suggest you cover them up. Here’s the how-to (though first check your building code to make sure this is ok):

1. drill lathing channels into the cement joints between the stones
2. on top of that apply metal lathe with wires or clips
3. then apply cement stucco 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick
4. trowel on sand for a textured finish, or leave smooth
5. paint, and then put it all behind you!